Thursday, December 08, 2005

Angels with Dirty Faces

So there's this debate regarding IVRs. It involves: 1) a blogger named Paul English (, who has thrown some gasoline on an old fire by publishing an "IVR cheat sheet", and 2), a provider of IVR services. Mr English's "cheat sheet" is a list of 114 (as of today) major companies, their toll free numbers, and the steps to take to get to a live agent (in other words, How to Beat the IVR).

A summary of the events is this: Mr English publishes the cheat sheet and attracts quite a few notices in the media, most of them very positive and adulatory. gets irked by the sudden chorus of anti-IVR voices and posts its own "cheat sheet", which in essence, says that it's not the IVR, it is the incorrect use of the IVR that is to blame. But things haven't stopped there. There have been several salvos between Angel, the media, and Mr English. The latest is that has "launched IVR University", which we should all be able to enroll in in early 2006 (whoopee! get your student loans now!).

As mental (6th grade word for "crazy") as this all is, I agree with - it's up to the company using the technology to either do it right or mess it up. And most companies mess it up. A clear and simple IVR definitely has a place (give me an hour and I'll think of an example). And a lot of's services, as well as other IVR providers, fall outside of the type of IVR stuff that gave rise to Mr English's cheat sheet. Many of the services provided are very useful to that segment of the population whose misanthropic leanings make IVR a godsend, not to mention savings that are definitely passed on to the consumer. In light of all that, it seems odd to me that would step in to the fray with the sort of school-marmish/Church Lady/lecturing attitude on their site: "The reality is that these systems have been around for quite some time, and aren't going away." Sounds like that should be followed by " little whippersnapper!".

But viewing Mr English's cheat sheet in terms of Cheat Sheet v. is misleading. The media melee (OK, maybe not quite a melee) following the posting of the cheat sheet makes one point clear: A lot of people hate IVR, (including me - the center I manage has no IVR). Notice how I said a lot of "people", not "customers". Now I can wade into the crux of the matter. It seems that so many in the Call Center field treat people as if they are an Alien Customer Specie to be studied - that is, they (meaning call center managers, directors, consultants, QA personnel etc) forget that customers/people are inseparable, and that trying to figure out what satisfies a customer (i.e. person) is no more complicated than asking themselves what they think is right.

Take "tele-sales" scripts for example. I guarantee you that NOBODY likes scripts except ACTORS and misguided call center folks. And if you're shaking your head right now, then YOU'RE a misguided call center folk. And most importantly, customers/people hate scripts. They (meaning us, since we're all the same) can detect forced, canned bullsh*t a mile away. Here are a couple of examples:

A greeting that sounds something like "Thank you for calling Catastrophic Bladderburst Inc, how may I provide you with superior service and unrelenting cross-selling and up-selling today?" Who likes this kind of greeting/garbage? Who? Who? Who? Nobody. It's fake, false, empty and makes the agent who has to say it 100 times a day angry.

A closing that drives a fatal wedge through whatever good has transpired prior to the end of the call - for example, Joe Rep has just spent a good deal of time with you resolving a billing issue. Everything is cool, you know that he has solved your problem, and at the end he is forced to slip back into automaton mode and says: "Thank you again for calling, is there anything else that I can help you with today?" This is my favorite, because in most cases a closing like that is such a jarring conclusion - it almost negates any real conversation that has preceded it - you almost think that the rep has had a temporary memory lapse. You want to say, "Waddya mean Joe Rep? We've just been talking for ten minutes! If you could have helped me with anything else we already would have covered it!!" It just ruins the agent's flow and make the customer a little uncomfortable.

But anyway, back to the point (all this call center talk is making me tired), all anyone has to do is ask themselves the questions: what makes sense in an IVR? In a "script"? In a greeting/closing? What would piss me off? What would make me think a company has its shit together? What would make me think a company was mental? (there's that word again). And we all know the answers - because when the call center manager takes his/her lunch break, and uses that time to call up their cable company to straighten something out, they are back in the role that we're ALL in: a regular person who happens to be a CUSTOMER, a customer who hates bullshit.


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